Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills?

Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills?

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? Vintage photo of Joseph Lamont (1902); smoking in portrait

Vintage photo of Joseph Lamont (1902); smoking in portrait. Image courtesy of Ephemera Obscura.

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Did the common man in the American Old West know that his cigar habit would likely cause cancer? Or myriad ailments?

Was that “awareness” of risks associated with smoking tobacco in all forms reserved for the twentieth century?

This question intrigues me.

On one hand, I began to notice vintage source after original source with modern-sounding warnings.  “…practice is very injurious…” for a reputable physician noted “disorders of the circulation, and digestive palpitation of the heart, and more or less craving for strong drink…” Further, the doctor includes maladies such as nosebleeds, disrupted sleep, and sores in the mouth. (See Gems of Deportment and Hints of Etiquette citation, below).

On the other hand, did not all romantic cowboys in Old Westerns (cue Clint Eastwood in Man With No Name) glorify tobacco use? We know tobacco use was high in the nineteenth century.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? Photograph of John Wayne, smoking. Courtesy of My Favorite Westerns.

Didn’t ALL cowboy shows for TV and movies show the truth of tobacco use? Courtesy of My Favorite Westerns.

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In addition, doctors prescribed tobacco for asthmatics!

It’s true!

Have you stumbled across my article, This Day In History: November 16?
I shared an advertisement for Danforth’s Bronchial Cigarettes.

Kristin Holt | This Day in History: November 16, including an advertisement from 1880 for Danforth's Bronchial Cigarettes.

This Day in History: November 16, including an advertisement from 1880 for Danforth’s Bronchial Cigarettes.

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So, which was it? A late nineteenth century filled with smoke and ignorant bliss? Or were they already “in the know?”

Please join me as I compare and contrast the two. I hope you’ll form your own opinion about Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills?

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First, the Ignorant Bliss Camp:

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Cigarettes Prescribed by Doctors

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Prescribed? For what conditions?

Asthma, hay fever and catarrh, oppression, suffocation, neuralgia.

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Kristin Holt | Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 3. Fendt's Bronchia Cigarettes, made by C.B. Seymour and Co., New York, advertise instant relief and permanent cure from asthma by use of their product, for sale by all druggists. Ad in Altoona Tribune of Altoona, Penn on August 30, 1860.

Fendt’s Bronchia Cigarettes, made by C.B. Seymour and Co., New York, advertise instant relief and permanent cure from asthma by use of their product, for sale by all druggists. Ad in Altoona Tribune of Altoona, Pennsylvania on August 30, 1860.

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Kristin Holt | Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 3. Espic's Cigarettes, or Powder, advertised for treatment of Asthma, Hay Fever and Catarrh, Oppression, Suffocation, Neuralgia, etc. Paris, New York. Sold by all druggists. Advertised in The San Francisco Call of San Francisco, California on January 3, 1900.

Espic’s Cigarettes, or Powder, advertised for treatment of Asthma, Hay Fever and Catarrh, Oppression, Suffocation, Neuralgia, etc. Paris, New York. Sold by all druggists. Advertised in The San Francisco Call of San Francisco, California on January 3, 1900.

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Canabis Indica to treat Asthma

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I’m not surprised to learn that standard tobacco was used by Victorian Americans to manage asthma. Truly, I’m not. (The “RN in me” fully comprehends why a nineteenth century physician would think that treatment viable and rational.) But “Indian Cigarettes,” prepared with Essence of Canabis Indica, were also advertised for treatment of asthma in this 1868 newspaper ad.

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Kristin Holt | Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 3. Advertisement for "Indian Cigarettes, prepared with the Essence of Canabis [sic] Indica," for asthma. Sold in Paris, New Orleans, etc. Ad in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Louisiana on April 2, 1868.

Advertisement for “Indian Cigarettes, prepared with the Essence of Canabis [sic]  (Cannabis) Indica,” for asthma. Sold in Paris, New Orleans, etc. Ad in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Louisiana on April 2, 1868.

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Second, the In The Know camp:

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I never promised all nineteenth century Americans against smoking (or aware of the hazards of smoking) would get the science right.

Notice that this excerpt from an 1881 publication, Gems of Deportment and Hints of Etiquette, is determined to link a smoking habit with alcoholism. The decade was fraught with loud voices for temperance (where folks boycotted root beer simply for association), thus it’s not surprising they linked drink with smoking.

Sigh. Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills?

At least it’s an accurate (common?) voice for the era.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? Argument against boys smoking from Gems of Deportment and Etiquette (1881)

Argument against boys smoking from Gems of Deportment and Hints of Etiquette (1881)

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Notice that this segment from an etiquette book highlights what eminent physicians of the day said about tobacco– not merely rules of social engagement. True, the good doctor’s sample size was frighteningly small and we can’t call this a scientific study.

The doctor’s major claims: Smoking in boys causes–

  • impairment of growth
  • weakening of mental forces
  • tobacco habit and alcohol consumption are connected

 

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Insanity, as a result

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No kidding. Insanity, as a result of too many cigarettes (or cigars). Tobacco and insanity? Surely this was a one-time thing, right? Oh, no. Nineteenth century sources provide lots of fodder. Here are a few.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? An 1857 voice against smoking from Semi-Weekly Standard of Raleigh, North Carolina on March 18, 1857. Relates tale of "distressing suicide of a minister," recounting the Rev. John Howard, recently pastor of the Presbyterian church of Woodstock, Shenandoah, Va., illustrated many symptoms of insanity, jailed, and committed suicide. The reason was "he had used tobacco to unusual excess, which are believed to be the causes of the fatal malady." (together with being a gentleman of delicate constitution, a laborious student, and the tobacco use)

An 1857 voice against smoking from Semi-Weekly Standard of Raleigh, North Carolina on March 18, 1857.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? Actor's Wife Smokes Too Many Cigarettes And Goes to Bellevue As a Consequence. "Her mind is said to have been deranged by the constant use of cigarettes and stimulants." From El Paso Herald of El Paso, TX on June 6, 1872.

Actor’s Wife Smokes Too Many Cigarettes And Goes to Bellevue As a Consequence. “Her mind is said to have been deranged by the constant use of cigarettes and stimulants.” From El Paso Herald of El Paso, TX on June 6, 1872.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Tobacco: Cures or Kills? From St. Joseph Gazette-Herald of St. Joseph, Missouri on February 1, 1888: "A Cigarette Young Man." Lousivvile, Ky., January 31.--John Holsch, 28 years of age, was declared insane to-day, He had been in the habit of smoking forty cigarettes a day, and his physicians attribute his mental decay to this."

From St. Joseph Gazette-Herald of St. Joseph, Missouri on February 1, 1888. Louisville, Kentucky physicians attribute mental decay (and declaration of insanity) to 40 cigarettes-a-day habit.

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Related Articles

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Kristin Holt | Victorian-American Tobacco Advertisements

 

Kristin Holt | Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 3

(Tobacco Myths and Truths)

 

Kristin Holt | This Day in History: November 16

This Day in History: November 16, including an advertisement from 1880 for Danforth’s Bronchial Cigarettes.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Root Beer War

Kristin Holt | Victorian Era: the American West

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